Champions’ League: Arsenal 1 – PSV Eindhoven 1

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Football
March 8th, 2007 • 2:43 pm

As a long-time Arsenal fan, I find myself surprisingly relieved and upbeat after the elimination from the Champions’ League last night. Of course, before the game I was still somewhat hopeful and, after the Gunners went 1-0 up (I was following live text reports of the game on-line, of course, since the coverage of this round of the tournament is so abysmal here in Canada), I really thought that they could do it—but ultimately when PSV Eindhoven equalized I was not overly surprised, and I was able to quickly resign myself to the idea that 2006–2007 would be yet another fruitless season.

Why is that? With the defeat in the Carling Cup final, the elimination from the FA Cup by Blackburn, and now this, it certainly has been a miserable couple of weeks for Arsenal. But it still is far from being all doom and gloom.

First of all, this year’s Carling Cup was an unmitigated success, even with the defeat in the final. There were several outstanding performances by Arsenal’s “young guns,” and the final itself was only really spoiled by the stupid brawl that occurred near the end. The cup itself is a very minor trophy. Winning it would have been great, but there wasn’t much glory for Chelsea in winning it anyway, and it will surely be forgotten by most almost as quickly as the entire tournament usually is. On the other hand, Arsenal supporters will long remember the famous victories and the amazing breakthroughs by B-team members such as Denilson and Traoré.

I for one do not really subscribe to that notion that all that matters in football is winning trophies. On the contrary, I find most trophy wins almost anti-climactic, even when they involve teams that I support. Yes, of course, history does remember winners first and foremost, but it simply is untrue that second place doesn’t mean anything, and that those who don’t win are quickly forgotten. Can anyone seriously argue that a striker like Thierry Henry will be forgotten if he doesn’t win a major trophy and plays a major role in that victory himself? Of course not. No matter what happens between now and the end of his career, he will always be remembered for many fantastic goals, exquisite skills, and an amazing record.

I find it strange that those who argue that only winners matter are also the same people who pay so much attention to statistics. Surely, if statistics matter to you, then you are interested in more than just the number of trophies won. This is just one statistic among many. Sure, it’s the most important one, but it’s far from the only one, and many other statistics are remembered by many for many years. I could mention that 49-game unbeaten run, for example… Yes, it included a trophy (the EPL title for 2003–2004), but it was far more than that.

And beyond statistics, there are simply many moments of sheer individual or collective brilliance that stay with you no matter what the ultimate outcome of the game or the season or the tournament was. And these are the moments that are cherished the most by true admirers of the “beautiful game.”

Don’t get me wrong. I would absolutely love it if my team won more trophies. But I certainly wouldn’t want it to come at the expense of skill and magic. As we all know, “you are not a big club if you win ugly,” and far too many winners of recent years were just ugly winners. I won’t name names… I’ve done it often enough in the past.

For me, the ultimate goal will always be to “win beautiful,” and I will continue to support the team and the manager that show the most promise in that respect. I do want the Gunners to acquire more grit and determination for next year, but I don’t want it to come at the expense of quality. Arsène Wenger needs to continue to work on finding the optimal recipe. And his players need to continue to believe in him and to believe in themselves.

Now, with Arsenal out of all cup competitions, they just need to focus on consolidating that Champions’ League qualifying spot. There will be much less pressure on their young minds, and they can continue to hone their skills and develop the strength and stamina needed to grind out results even when circumstances are unfavourable.

I just hope that people (including the players themselves) don’t lose patience too quickly. There’s little glory in winning by spending hundreds of millions of dollars. And there is not that much more glory in winning through a persistent mix of cynical fouling and outrageous theatrics. Those who really appreciate the sport know where the true value of football lies.

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